Peter Greenaway: "100 Objects to represent the World", 1992. Photo: Manu Luksch
Peter Greenaway: "100 Objects to represent the World", 1992. Photo: Manu Luksch
Peter Greenaway: "100 Objects to represent the World", 1992. Photo: Manu Luksch

100 Objects to represent the world

Introduction by Peter Greenaway


Not so long ago, the Americans sent a payload off into space to represent the world. You weren't asked to contribute to this representation, and neither was I. What sort of world were they seeking to represent if you and I weren't asked?

If you and I were not represented, could their payload be considered to be a contribution to any picture an extra-terrestrial might have of Earth? Imagine if the world's men were represented by your father. Imagine if the world's women were represented by your mother. Imagine if the world's animals were represented by your dog. What sort of picture would the extra-terrestrial have of men, woman and animals?

Go to the Naguru National Park and look at the forty-second zebra to the left under the eucalyptus tree with the broken branch – is that zebra truly representative of all zebras – and if it is not, would you know why? If the storm comes tomorrow and the zebras scatter, would you be able to recognise yesterday's forty-second zebra? You'd be able to recognise your mother after a storm, why can't you remember a zebra?


At it's heaviest the spaceship's payload was 77 kilos. It is well understood that they could not send the British Museum Reading Room or the Metropolitan Museum, New York, or the Louvre, or the Tah Mahal or the Great Pyramid of Cheops or St. Peter's Rome. But what can be represented of the world in 77 kilos? They could manage a photograph of each one of these buildings and the photographs could – possibly – tell you about photography and paper – and if scrupulously examined about cameras, light, acetate, silver nitrate, pulped rags- maybe. Could the photographs tell you about relative scale and building materials, books, stuffed animals, the Mona Lisa, M.I.Pei, grief, Hinduism, triangles,despotism, Michelangelo, Christianity, crucifixion the right way up and upside down? It is a curious thing but on the evidence of the way we look at ancient civilisations, Michelangelo is going to be better remembered than St. Peter and St. Peter's is going to be better revered than St.Peter – maybe Michelangelo one day might be better known than Christ? Perhaps amongst some, he is already.

If the American spaceship was sent in 1976, it is probable that its payload of representative details – all packed into 77 kilos and a space 772 centimetres by 845 centimetres by 964 centimetres – will tell you just a little about the mid – seventies – perhaps the American mid – seventies from the point of view of middle – class, white Americans with a bias for bureaucratic and scientific matters. Not so much a bias, perhaps, so much as a prejudice. To the fortunate – or unfortunate – extra-terrestrial, before that spaceship has travelled one light- year, it might just as well be representing the Emperor Ho Ching in the Peking of 543, or the Aborigine populations of Southern Australia four thousand years ago, or Vancouver island two thousand years hence.


And yet.


It is a commonplace that everything represents something else but that no two things are exactly alike, that language is vague, but amongst three hundred and forty-seven billion Earth words, a perfect synonym is impossible to find. There is another thing, the payload space in Apollo 16 is 772 centimetres by 84 centimetres by 964 centimetres which is exactly the same size as the inner – inner sanctum of Cheop's Great Pyramid. These two entirely different man-made spaces are now linked by a French system of metrical measurement and the fact that they have both been mentioned together on this page.I am sure – had we the patience and the willingness – we could think of another ten thousand ways that they are linked. So maybe you and I were represented after all on the Apollo Spaceship 16, a spaceship that is now – and will be until the year 3000 – somewhere within the Galaxy of the Milky Way, awaiting examination.


However, when they come to send another spaceship on a similar mission – we all ought to be able to have a say in what gets sent to represent us in our diversity, in our vulnerability, in our inferiority and in our megalomania. This exhibition – in the Semper, Viennese spacecraft – is a second attempt.


A museum, a gallery, a collection of artefacts assembled under one space, one idea, one heading, by one curator – is a sort of representation of the world. This one mocks human endeavour by seeking to be totally representative encyclopedically – but in brief. It takes care of scale and time, masculine and feminine, cat and dog. It acknowledges everything – everything alive and everything dead. It should leave nothing out – every material, every technique, every type of every type, every science, every art and every discipline, every construct, illusion, trick and device we utilise to reflect our vanity and insecurity, and our disbelief that we are so cosmically irrelevant. Since every natural and cultural object is such a complex thing, and all are so endlessly interconnected, this ambition should not be as difficult as you might imagine.

Exhibition on the occasion of the 300 anniversary of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in the Vienna Hofburg, the Semper Depot and in the Academy of Fine Arts, 2.10 to 8.11.1992, open daily (except Tuesday) from 10 to 18:00.

Curator: Peter Greenaway
Project director: Elisabeth Schweeger
Assistants: Barbara Clausen, Manuela Luksch, Chris Sichrovsky
Photos: Reinhard Mayr, Manuela Luksch, Helga Mayringer
Press: Virgil Widrich


11. June 1992 – 08. November 1992
Six months of work on Peter Greenaway’s internationally acclaimed exhibit "100 Objects to represent the world" in Vienna’s Hofburg, the Semper Depot and the Academy of Fine Arts.